(The Center Square) – The Missouri River and its million-dollar fishing industry is under immediate threat as an increasing population of the invasive Asian carp is causing other fish species to decrease dramatically.
Asian carp can grow to up to 100 pounds and are voracious eaters that can consume up to 40% of their body weight of plankton per day. This creates a direct competition with the river's natural species, Chris Steffen, Aquatic Nuisance Species coordinator at Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), told The Center Square.
In some areas infested with Asian carp, the game fish population has been severely edged out and decreased by 90% or more, Steffen said. For those who fish the waters both recreationally and professionally, this has caused a huge negative impact in multiple ways.
Steffen cited a 2011 national survey that showed infestation of Asian carp into a Kansas reservoir would negatively impact Kansas' $220 million recreational fishing industry.
"Silver carp regularly jump out of the water and can injure boaters," Steffen said. "Asian carp populations in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes have impacted property values in the area."
Though they are plentiful, Steffen said Asian carp have a complicated bone structure and are infrequently consumed by fishermen.
"There are a small number of companies in the nation (none in Kansas) that process Asian carp to resale for human consumption," Steffen said. "Asian carp are also used in dog food and fertilizer, both also on a small scale."
Kansas' Bowersock Dam has helped prevent the nuisance species from moving further upriver, Steffen said. The dam at Clinton Reservoir has kept the species out of a lake popular for fishing and boating. There is a 54-mile portion of the Kansas River that is inundated with Asian carp, but dams in place should limit the species from advancing.
Since some Asian carp closely resemble another species that is used for bait, Kansas has also enacted strict laws about gathering and transporting live bait in order to help slow the spread.
"Regulations have been implemented to reduce the likelihood of Asian carp being intentionally or inadvertently introduced to additional waterbodies," Steffen said. "KDWPT staff collaborates with other invasive species experts through regional, interstate and national ANS organizations to minimize the impacts of Asian carp and other harmful species."
Many states are spending millions of dollars to combat the growing Asian carp population.
Kansas was recently awarded three grants by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These grants are to aid in removing Asian carp from the Kansas River below the Bowersock Dam, determine options and approximate costs for an Asian carp barrier at Bowersock Dam, and to identify locations within the Neosho River – Grand Lake system for containment, removal and/or eradication efforts of Asian carp.